GamesBeat

The golden age returns? Seamus Blackley’s Innovative Leisure mobile game startup raises seed round (exclusive)

Seamus Blackley, the co-creator of the Xbox (which has become a multibillion-dollar business for Microsoft), has crossed over in his career from console games to mobile apps. The proof is an announcement today that his startup, Innovative Leisure, has raised a round of seed funding from prestigious venture capital firm Hummer Winblad.

The deal reinforces the notion that mobile gaming has become the most exciting part of the game business and that many people want to participate in it in some significant way.

Blackley started Innovative Leisure last year with his partner, chief executive Van Burnham, as part of a retro movement. They have recruited a team of veteran game designers from the “golden age” of Atari in the 1980s and 1970s. Their plan is to create games for the “new arcade” on iOS (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch) devices. The veterans have been coupled with younger game programmers who have a fresh perspective on making mobile games. The calculation is that gameplay (something the veterans are great at creating), not distribution power or brands, will triumph in mobile games.

“This enables us to publish our own games and to do all sorts of other interesting stuff that we will be talking about soon,” Blackley said. “It’s great news because it lets us be even more creative and innovative in our thinking. Stay tuned.”

They include Ed Rotberg, the creator of the classic Atari game Battlezone; Owen Rubin, the creator of Major Havoc and Space Duel; Rich Adam, the creator of Gravitar and codeveloper of Missile Command; Ed Logg, the co-creator of Asteroids and Centipede; Dennis Koble, the creator of Touch Me and Shooting Gallery; Tim Skelly, the only non-Atari veteran arcade game designer who worked for Cinematronics and created games such as Rip-Off; and Bruce Merrit, the creator of Black Widow.

Hummer Winblad has been investing in software companies since 1989. It was founded by managing directors John Hummer and Ann Winblad. Its portfolio of other game-related companies includes mobile rewards firm Kiip.

“It’s a dream team of the guys who built the games I grew up on and I fell in love with the early prototypes…a pretty easy decision,” said Lars Leckie, managing director at Hummer Winblad.

Innovative Leisure had previously said that it had obtained financing from THQ and would publish games through that video game company. But Blackley said that Innovative Leisure is going to self-publish its games now. Blackley recently spoke at our GamesBeat 2012 conference in July. The company has 20 or so employees, plus contractors, with more being hired.

Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

“It’s to go and find those designers who initiated the whole thing in the first cycle of casual games in the industry, which was the explosion of the arcade business. We got together all of these people from Atari to make new games. Every classic arcade game you can think of, every style of gameplay that you can think of, were more or less all of them, at one point, at Atari….

“Well, there’s the retro urge, but I don’t think that’s the important factor. The important factor is that you have this whole audience of people who are lapsed gamers, who stopped playing games when they turned into movies. They want to have a game experience on whatever device is in front of them. In fact, when you look at what’s going on with Blackberry today, Blackberry failed to have games. And devices that fail to have games fail in the marketplace.

“It’s a very interesting thing. People expect to be entertained, and they expect to be entertained in a way that’s very seamless with life. It’s very low friction. It’s a moment that’s identical to what happened when video games first showed up in arcades. It’s a moment that’s also identical to when home consoles started to take off. The people who wanted to play games wanted to play them in a way that integrated into their lives. I think that the main emphasis for this company is that these are the guys who first came to that idea…. To a modern audience it’s very new. Games that fulfill that same need to play a game right now for a little bit before I go back to work, before I go on with whatever I’m going to do.”


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